Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Buddy Holly's Nashville Sessions

Ollie Vee, he come from Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee. But Buddy Holly, he come from Lubbock, Texas, home of country western radio station KDAV, where announcer Hipockets Duncan helped Buddy and his early sidekick, guitarist Bob Montgomery, get a regular slot on the Sunday Party live show. Here Buddy and Bob’s popularity grew, and they eventually got a spot opening for Bill Haley when he passed through town. Bigshot Nashville promoter Eddie Crandall heard them that night in 1955, and, like Hipockets before him, also got interested. Crandall got KDAV to cut a few demos, then he arranged a recording contract with Decca for... er, well, for Buddy only. It seems that Decca, in their scramble to find their own Elvis, was only interested in solo Rock 'n' Roll acts. So no Delmore Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Santos & Johnnies, or Johnnies & Jonies for Decca Records. But they did let Buddy record with a crack Rockabilly outfit that included guitarist Sonny Curtis, who wrote “Rock Around with Ollie Vee,” bassist Don Guess, who wrote the great “Modern Don Juan,” and guitarist Grady Martin.

So we’re still talkin’ pre-Crickets here on these songs, which were all recorded in Nashville, in three separate sessions, way back in 1956. Owen Bradley even produced one of the sessions, demonstrating once again that, despite being one of two main architects of countrypolitan shmaltz, he knew how to make a good Rock’n’Roll record, having also produced the earliest sides by the Johnny Burnette Trio, and I suspect possibly those by Donny “Soon to Become Johnny Paycheck” Young. Most of these songs were originally released as Decca singles (although today they come to you by way of MCA LP Buddy Holly The Nashville Sessions, released in 1975), failed to chart. The record company grew restless, and thus began Buddy Holly's fabled departure from Decca. Less than a year later he broke big with "That'll Be the Day." Boy o boy, Decca probably sure wished it had held its mud for a few more months.

And while Bradley was demonstrating all that R’n’R producer prowess, Buddy Holly showed us how gone for the girls he was. Besides the aforementioned “Modern Don Juan,” hear him pant and pine convincingly enough on “Love Me” and “Ting-A-Ling.” Young and free is a real fine thing to be, but, alas, love ain’t free. It left Buddy to sing with equal aplomb about “The Midnight Shift” and “Blue Days – Black Nights” as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Big Boy Crudup's Atomic Bomb Blues

For originating the song that first broke Elvis, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup sometimes got called the “Father of Rock’n’Roll.” For Crudup it was a dubious distinction, one that sure didn’t pay. By the mid-50s, as his young white imitator climbed the charts with his rendition of “That’s All Right, Mama,” Crudup had already quit recording for a spell, tired of getting stiffed for royalties by RCA, Checker, Ace, and Trumpet records.

Of course Crudup eventually came out of retirement. He cut a few singles and a long-player for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, who released “Mean Ole Frisco" b/w "Rock Me, Mama” and “Katie Mae" b/w "Dig Myself a Hole" both in 1962. The last of these sides, “Dig Myself a Hole,” takes Gemini Spacecraft’s top spot in the category of atomic bomb blues, right up there with Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War” from the Arms Race 80s.

These releases placed Crudup in a good position to reap some limited exposure on the folk revival scene then emerging. But misfortune dogged the Big Boy, and none of his records earned him any money. Crudup never escaped poverty, and to the end he earned his meager living as an agricultural laborer and small-time moonshiner.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin'

Once more on the subject of Memphis wrestling: Shangri-La Projects, the same folks who brought you Ron Hall’s great book Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling, have also produced a documentary film. Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’ is based on Hall’s book, but it apparently delves more deeply into the 80s era than the book does, which focuses more on the 50s & 60s golden age. Hall, Sherman Philpott, and Billy Worley produced the film, and Chad Schaffler directed. Official release date: sometime in 2010.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Willie Mitchell With the 4 Kings: Tell It to Me Baby

Willie Mitchell, Memphis trumpeter and band leader most famously known for running Hi Records, for cutting a string of great instrumentals in the 60s, and for producing Al Green and Ann Peebles in the 70s, died yesterday. He was 81.

For decades Mitchell worked his magic at his own Royal Studios, in Memphis, TN, often with great session guitarist Teenie Hodges leading the Royal house band. On the Al Green & Ann Peebles records these guys were the Kings of Quiet, achieving a rare level of warmth and intimacy in the studio. Still, great as all that music is, it’s all a little too “suede denim” for me. I prefer the earlier Willie Mitchell, of 4 Kings fame, here performing their first single “Tell It To Me Baby,” from 1958, on Memphis Rockabilly/C&W great Eddie Bond’s Stomper Time label. The song was written by 4 Kings lead singer Don Bryant. In fact, Willie Mitchell wasn’t actually in the band, tho he finagled song credit nonetheless, as he was more like the band’s leader and manager. Anyway, it’s a rocker. Tell it to me baby!